On September 1st 2012 members, churches, ecumenical partners, family and friends gathered at The Plough (Brecon) to witness and celebrate the induction of the Revd Simon Walkling as moderator of the National Synod of Wales. The Plough is a united and bi-lingual congregation of United Reformed Church and Union of Welsh Independents.
The Plough, where the induction took place, overflows with Independent Congregational history and Victorian architecture and furnishings – including an elaborately designed Victorian toilet that can literally cause a first time visitor to forget why he/she needed to use it in the first instance! My history session was reinforced not only by appropriately placed wall memorials, but by two walking Welsh history books – the Revd Peter Noble (former moderator of the Synod of Wales) and the Revd John Humphreys (the preacher), both well connected to and versed in the history of the congregation. Among other things, I learnt that the church was built upon what used to be an old alehouse and that an early stipulation (anecdotal perhaps) ensured that the minister’s horse was fed/watered and that he was provided with a good supply of ale!
There was no ale on this occasion. But the air was full of the wine of joyful celebration – through hymns, delightful singing by a small choir and the Pontypridd Male Voice Choir, prayers, readings, sermon, greetings and fellowship. The theme of stories connected the received stories of our heritage (scripture) with those of the story of the process of the appointment (tradition), the story of Simon Walkling’s own journey of faith (discipleship) and the stories of our present reality (context). This thematic thread offered a powerful testimony to the ways that God’s story is woven into our lives and vice versa.
John Humphreys’ (moderator of the Synod of Scotland) timely and insightful reflections focused on our calling during the process of a transition and picked up three themes (context, charism and community) from the selected readings. He challenged us to honour the gifts of the past while not tied to it as we celebrate change and rethink our life together in the present. John’s gifted touch in connecting with the gathered community was a reminder of how a sermon, preaching, and a sense of humour can still bring a whole community alive and elicit lively responses. In fact, the mood of joy characterised the whole induction service and continued into the sharing of conversations and refreshment afterwards. It literally overflowed into the marquis in front of the Plough.
A striking feature of the Order of Service was Simon’s design on the cover: a butterfly as a Celtic knot, with no beginning or ending to show the love of God interwoven with the whole of life and creation. Throughout the service, the butterfly image fluttered around in a variety of ways. While John spoke of the church emerging from the chrysalis of transition, Simon noted how the butterfly represents the mystery of faith that cannot be pinned down in fixed statements without losing the sense of movement and life. And can it be that the image of a butterfly taking off reminds us of the change and new direction that Simon’s ministry will enable, as moderator and members of the Synod strive to become living letters of God’s love in Christ?
May the energy and excitement manifested on this occasion result in a timely butterfly effect spreading out across the whole church! For who can predict, with any degree of accuracy, the movement of the Holy Spirit?